Why data is being stored in glass and holograms

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This deluge of data is not just hitting museums – it’s pouring down everywhere.

Businesses are buying more space for back-up data, hospitals need somewhere to store records, government needs a place to stash increasing amounts of information.

“We are continuing to create insane amounts of data,” says Simon Robinson, principal analyst at research firm Enterprise Strategy Group.

“For most organisations – it varies a lot – their data volume is doubling every four to five years. And in some industries it is growing much faster than that,” he says.

Data that needs to be held for a long time is not stored in traditional data centres, those vast warehouses, with racks of servers and blinking lights. Those operations are designed for data that needs to be accessed and updated frequently.

Instead, the most popular way to keep data for the long-term is on tape. In particular a format known as LTO (Linear Tape Open), the latest version being called LTO-9.

The tapes themselves are not unlike old VHS tapes, but a bit smaller and more square.

Inside the cassette is a kilometre of magnetic tape, capable of storing 18 terabytes of data.

That’s a lot – just one tape can hold the same amount of data as almost 300 standard smartphones.

The Imperial War Museum in Duxford uses a tape system from Spectra Logic. The machine, around the size of a large wardrobe, can hold up to 1,500 LTO tapes.

Such LTO systems dominate the market for long-term storage. They have been around for decades, and have proved themselves to be reliable.

It’s also pretty cheap, which is important as generally customers want to pay as little as possible for long-term storage.

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